Adventure + Creativity,  Health + Wellness

Essential gear to keep you walking all winter long.

I’ve been challenging myself to walk outside daily as the weather has grown colder this fall, and for a couple of weeks, it was a piece of cake. But after an unseasonably warm early November, we were plunged dramatically into For Real Winter, and right now there’s a freezing wind and heavy snowfall outside my window.

To keep up the daily walking habit I’ve worked to establish, it was clear I was going to have to get serious about locating, cleaning, and organizing my outdoor winter gear – plus buying or replacing a few missing pieces – ASAP. Along the way I’ve taken inventory of my favorite pieces, and the ones that make the biggest difference on those cold, snowy days.

Here is my list of essentials, from fleece-lined leggings to super-warm snow boots and more:

Pants:

  • When it’s chilly: I have two pair of Rainier Tights from Athleta that are the perfect weight for a chilly fall day. Note: these are advertised as being appropriate for “cold climates” workouts, but I’m not sure I’d be very comfortable wearing them on an outdoor walk below 35 degrees or so. They’re soft and thick, but not terribly insulated – I even wore them to power yoga several times last year and wasn’t too hot. They’re great for layering under warmer pants on really cold days, though!
  • When it’s cold: I have a couple pair these thicker fleece leggings, and they are great (and inexpensive.) I bought a pair in my regular size, and another pair one size up so that I can layer them over a thinner pair. I’ve worn these by themselves in temps in the upper 20s/low 30s and was comfortable, but would layer them if it was any colder than that.
  • When it’s really cold: This is where a pair of snowpants comes in handy! These lined pants are flexible, stretchy (they do seem to run a little big) and have a streamlined fit, so you don’t feel like a little kid shuffling off to school in them. I’ve now worn these on several outings where the temps were in the 20s, and I was toasty warm and dry in them. Layering over fleece leggings definitely helps!

    I also have these more traditional snowpants in olive green. These ones are substantially warmer than the ones linked above, though we didn’t have a very cold winter last year so I didn’t really get the chance to put them to the test. Again, I was attracted to the streamlined fit and the fact that they don’t rustle, squeak, or “sshh-sshhh” when you walk in them. These are roomy enough that I can wear them over another thick layer on a really cold day, but can also use the waist belt to cinch if needed. They do hit a little higher on the ankle than I’m used to in a snow pant, but since they have a slim fit, I’m tucking them into my boots anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

    Footwear:
I’m loving my Baffin Chloe Boots.
  • Socks: An essential part of a cold-weather walking strategy! I’m a huge Smartwool fan, and find that their light cushion athletic socks are great for keeping my ankles warm without being too bulky or bunchy for sneakers. Once the temps drop enough that I’m opting for boots, I typically up my game to a thicker, taller snow sock.
  • Shoes: A regular pair of sneakers or walking shoes can get you through some surprisingly chilly weather if you pair them with good socks. For drizzly days, or if there’s a lot of wet leaves or mud to content with, I may opt for my Salewa Wildfire hybrid hikers – they fit like a shoe but with added water resistance and a beefier, sturdier sole. If you’re looking for more ankle support, I highly recommend these Salewa boots – they got me through some pretty chilly days this fall.
  • Snow boots: Once the snow starts falling in earnest or it gets REALLY frigid out, it’s time to bring in the big guns. For more casual walks around town, I love my Gwen Tall Boots from Vionic (use code MOR for free shipping.) I walked miles in northern Michigan in December wearing these boots and was comfy the whole time. For really frigid temps or contending with deep snow and slush, you want something that’s warm and weatherproof boot and ALSO good for comfortably logging miles. I am in love with the Baffin Chloe Boots. They are so warm and cozy, comfortable, sturdy, AND they pull on and off easily with a simple cinch lace for tightening when needed. I’ve worn them shoveling, hiking, snowshoeing….and even on a date-night walk to a bar. They kept me warm and comfy in every situation.

Top Layers:

  • My core stays pretty warm while I’m walking, even on really cold days. If the temps are above 40 or so, I do just fine with some light-ish layers. I have this fleece zip-up from Arc’Teryx – it’s expensive (I didn’t pay full price), but has been incredibly versatile and it’s so much warmer than you’d expect such a lightweight layer to be! Depending on the temps, I might wear this over a long-sleeve tee or sweatshirt, and/or under a shell layer like a windbreaker or a light jacket.

    Layering is an art and depends a lot on how long you’ll be out, your climate, and personal preference – and it isn’t always necessary for a short, casual walk. If it’s cold and I’m just getting in a short stroll (as opposed to a long hike) I just toss on my Columbia parka, make sure my neck, ears, and hands are covered, and get moving.

Accessories:

A good hat like this Smartwool Lid beanie makes a big difference!
  • A warm hat (or, at the least, ear covering) is essential for me any time the temps drop below 45 or so, especially if there’s wind. I love my simple Smartwool beanie and am adding this colorful version to my winter gear list.
  • I hate having a cold neck, so I have a couple fleece neck gaiters on standby.
  • Warm gloves are great, but you don’t have to over-think this too much. For walking, I prioritize comfort and hand dexterity over waterproofing since I’m not making snowballs as I stroll 🙂 These fleece Isotoners have been great on all but the very coldest days – when, frankly, I’m probably not going to be out walking long anyway.
  • In the not-necessary-but-nice category: Ankle gaiters can help keep slush from splashing onto your pants leg or, worse, seeping down the front of your boot, and simple slide-on crampons provide extra grip on the bottoms of your shoes for really slick days. (The older I get the more I worry about injuring myself, so I appreciate any extra stability I can get!)

A note about shopping: whenever possible, I love to encourage people to visit their local sporting-goods store or outdoor outfitter. I have an excellent locally-owned outfitter near me, and I’ve relied heavily on them and their sound advice and quality curation for camping and hiking gear over the years. That said, sometimes very specific items are hard to find locally (I’ve had zero luck sourcing good snow boots locally, for example), and you may not be lucky enough to have a great local option. I’ve mostly used Amazon links above to make it easy to compare options, but if you do have a local outfitter, why not head in to buy at least some of your winter-walking gear?

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